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Beware of possible harmful side effects of too much omega-3 supplements

Harold Mandel's picture
A delicious, nutritious trout meal

There has been a great deal of interest over the years in the value of omega-3 fatty acids for overall good health. Many studies have highlighted the beneficial protective effects of omega-3 fatty acids for serious conditions such as heart disease and cancer. Other studies have raised the possibility that omega-3 fatty acids are good for your brain. Reporting this association with brain health, EmaxHealth reporter Tim Boyer, Ph.D, has written about considerations that omega-3 fatty acids may make you smarter. This has all lead to recommendations to eat more fatty fish, which has omega-3 fatty acids, and less red meat. However, a new study has raised concerns about the potential for harmful side effects if you consume too much omega-3 fatty acids, and so while meeting the dietary guidelines for consumption of fish at least times a week, caution should be taken with adding too many supplements.

Omega-3 fatty acids have many health benefits

Dr. Frank Sacks, who is a Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at Harvard School of Public Health, has discussed the beneficial aspects of consuming omega-3 fatty acids. These are in a class of polyunsaturated fatty acids which are considered to be essential nutrients for our health. There are many normal body functions, such as the control of blood clotting and the development of cell membranes for the brain, which are dependent on omega-3 fatty acids. There are many health benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acids in dealing with many health conditions, including:

1: Protection against heart disease and possibly stroke.


Inflammatory bowel disease

4: Other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Omega-3 fatty acids are present in many foods

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many nutritious foods. Reporting a good food source for omega-3 fatty acids, in an earlier coverage EmaxHealth reporter Kathleen Blanchard said the best source of Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish roe.

Other foods which are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are:

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1: Vegetable oils, such as soybean, rapeseed (canola), and flaxseed

2: Walnuts.

3: Green vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach,
and salad greens.

4: Fatty fish

Too much omega-3 fatty acids could be harmful

Reporting on the study linking too much omega-3 fatty acids in the diet with possible adverse health outcomes, Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes & Essential Fatty Acids (PLEFA), the
Official Journal of the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids, has written on concerns that there may be negative health consequences associated with too much omega-3 fatty acids. There has been a growing trend over the years for physicians and nutritionists to recommend the consumption of fish to help prevent cardiovascular disease. Although this appears to be a good idea, it was not initially anticipated that this would lead to the overly aggressive encouragement of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and fortification of foods, which has been seen.

There has been evidence which supports a protective role for omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for the lowering of risk for sudden cardiac events. However, the safety and efficacy of this supplementation in dealing with other disease outcomes has been unclear. In fact recent studies of bacterial, viral, and fungal infections in animal models of infectious disease have shown that omega-3 fatty acid consumption may harm the immune response and lead to lower survival rates. There have been other observations that high intake of omega-3 fatty acids may be associated with a higher risk for prostate cancer and atrial fibrillation.

Generally, there remains support for the dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association to eat fish, particularly fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, and trout, at least two times a week. It also appears like a good idea for people at risk of coronary artery disease to discuss with their doctors perhaps taking some supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been noted as being important for normal brain development in children. Reporting on this Robin Wulffson MD has written on observations that aside from iron deficiency, omega-3 fatty acid deficiency may undermine the normal development of children's brains. However, too much omega-3 supplementation for adults and children may not be a very good idea and may in fact be associated with negative health consequences as noted herein.

I often come across people who are overly enthusiastic about taking supplements and feel that mega doses of these supplements may offer them some miracle cures for serious illnesses and a path to an unusually long life. However, we are seeing from the research that too much of a good thing can be harmful and taking too many omega-3 fatty acid supplements may in fact backfire on you and result in negative health consequences. It is my opinion that supplements should be only be taken in moderation along with a nutritious diet. In view of the concerns raised about the possibility of causing yourself harm by taking too many omega-3 fatty acid supplements, I would suggest that you discuss your interest in taking supplements with a nutritionally oriented physician or nutritionist.



Then there are concerns about a contaminated product. Same with fish though and then we have the hazards of farm raised fish. I think it's important if you supplement and even for the foods we eat to know your source. It's a bit overwhelming sometimes.